Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Our second world war -- Part 1

America wasn't ready for war.
Two distinct end points mark the parameters of World War II -- September 1939 and April 1945, the effective start and finish to the global conflict.

In the middle of all that, virtually every human on the planet was affected in some way by the war.

According to Julie Schlesselman, who produced a comprehensive book with the names of practically everyone from Franklin County who ever wore a uniform, about 1,700 men and women served in the war in some capacity.

Of that number, at least 28 were from Fairfield or Fairfield Township. Without the aid of a detailed census for the war years, one could assume that the 28 represents a significant percentage of eligible men.

Brookville newspaper accounts of the American involvement in the war are scattered, brimming with local flavor. The reports range from official Department of Defense handouts to first-person letters, shared through gossip. It is inconceivable in the future of human history that a conflict of this proportion will ever occur again.

Let's start somewhere near the beginning.

Around the time Hitler's army invaded Poland in 1939, a syndicated column "This Week in Washington" speculated on the "minds" of our top officials.

"A dozen questions of vital national interest are being asked, and the answers are as various as the questions. All relate to the possibility or the probability of the United States being drawn into the European mess, whether we want to go to war or not, to just what we can do to keep out of the war, and how a great war in Europe would affect us if we're not participants."

Dozens of questions probably boiled down to one: How do we profit from this adventure?

The article continues:

"Much has been said and written about the completeness of our program of national defense, but the recent war games in which the regular army and the national guard participated have disclosed that we are nowhere nearly as ready to fight as people had supposed."

The column reveals that Gen. Hugh A. Drum, the Army's Chief of Staff, had been "outspoken" in his criticism of America's readiness to fight, claiming the equipment was outmoded, and the soldiers, including the regular Army, had been badly trained.

"We are short of mobile artillery, of anti-aircraft guns and of coast-defense artillery, according to high army officers, some of whom are much more outspoken than General Drum."

Not a good mix in the face of bellicose countries like Germany and Japan, who obviously knew how to read! America could be had ... and even her generals are admitting it! Bad form, fellas.

But America was inclined to sustain a neutral position on the war in Europe and was only marginally interested in the affairs in the Far East. The belief that World War I was "the war to end all wars" was accepted by people without much dispute.

"While public and official sympathy with the so-called democracies of Europe against the dictatorships is so well understood as to be taken for granted, can we avoid acts which could be interpreted as taking sides?"

The column suggested that acts of aggression against the U.S. would not be taken lightly, but they'd have to be pretty damned serious before America would go to war.

Meanwhile, some experts in foreign policy predicted that if Europe were to fall to the Nazis, meaning England and France, a likely station of war expansion might be South America.

A little closer to home, for sure.

"Regardless of the questions whether the U.S. may become involved in actual hostilities, the best informed officials in Washington hold that war would have a serious effect on this country's economic position."

And a country hobbling out of the Great Depression was apparently worried about the price of corn.

President Roosevelt did hold an executive hammer in restricting trade with belligerent nations, but he was saddled by a congressional neutrality act that would handcuff the Pentagon.

It's also worth noting that the U.S. held no particular affection for the communist government of the Soviet Union. In that respect, it was at times difficult to determine which enemy was worse.

The logic was: Subversive elements in the Nazi sphere of influence were attempting to stir up anti-German hate in an effort to modify public opinion that would lead America into a war with the Nazis, one the Nazis would win.

All that, the thinking went, after the Germans crushed the British and French resistance, whereupon the Germans could literally rape the U.S. of its natural resources.

"In the case of communist propaganda emanating from Russia, the (Un-American Activities) committee holds, the special interest of the Moscow government is that the democracies of the world and the totalitarian governments shall destroy each other."

Leaving the non-totalitarian Joe Stalin in charge, no doubt.


Congress did in fact modify the terms of its neutrality act after Germany invaded Poland.  "High officials indicate that the gradual trend of events is likely to bring about a feeling that would seen be impossible to ignore concerning the war in Europe, and the bombing of passenger ships and other acts of similar nature would soon cause a rise of dissension that might involve America in hostilities."

The changes in the neutrality act effectively allowed for the shipment of supplies to European allies.

"The protests of the vast number of people who have written their (lawmakers) urging the retention of the (arms) embargo are not being disregarded, but the attitude of members of both Houses, with some exceptions, is that these protests come from people who honestly believe that the embargo is the only way, or the best way, to keep the U.S. out of war."

It would be more than two years before the U.S. would go to war.


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